136K fish stocked in pens at Oak Orchard River, up about 10%

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 3 April 2023 at 5:38 pm

Local pen-rearing project reaches 25th anniversary

Photos by Tom Rivers

POINT BREEZE – Little Chinook salmon fingerlings head into a one of the pens where they will spend the next month getting bigger in the Oak Orchard River.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation delivered 126,330 Chinook salmon and 10,000 steelhead today just after 1 p.m. The salmon numbers were increased by 10 percent from a year ago after the DEC determined the lake could handle more salmon.

They will be raised for a month in pens at Ernst Lake Breeze Marina. They fish will double in size, which increases their survival rates and also allows them to imprint on the river, meaning they are more likely to come back to the Oak Orchard when they are much bigger, mature fish.

The pens have automated feeders with food provided by the DEC.

This group helps line up and support an interconnected pipe, guiding the fish from the DEC truck to the pens in the water.

A group of charter boat captains and other volunteers will keep an eye on the fish in the next month.

Bob Songin, a charter boat captain who is second from left, has been with the pen-rearing since it started 25 years ago in 1998.

At the time it was a pilot project with 50,000 Chinook and 5,000 steelhead. The group at Oak Orchard and the DEC showed the pen-rearing projects can be successful, leading to more mature fish and happier anglers who fish in the lake in the summer and the tributaries in the fall.

Ed Shepherd from the DEC’s Altmar hatchery gets ready to release the fish from a tank on the truck through the pipes to the pen.

The fish delivery on April 3 is believed to be the earliest shipment. Bob Songin said they are usually delivered around April 10. He said the fish got bigger at the hatchery ahead of schedule, likely from the warmer-than-normal waters from a winter with above-average temps.

Joe Grolling of Carlton was among the volunteers helping with the fish delivery today.

Some of the little salmon didn’t make it to the pen when the pipe’s interconnection failed. These people scrambled to pick up the fish and get them into buckets to be put in the pens. Many younger kids were on hand with no school in session. Those kids were quick to pick up the fish.

It was a community effort to work with the DEC to get the fish from the truck to the pens.